After a pandemic-delayed three-year hiatus, Barry is finally back, with the premiere episode of season three airing last night on HBO. For a show that started out strong, somehow Barry keeps getting better, reaching new highs—and emotional lows—topping itself in ever more impressive ways. Series co-creators Bill Hader and Alec Berg share directing duties, and co-write a number of episodes, and while Hader’s performance as erstwhile assassin-cum-actor Barry Berkman is as good as ever, this season, his direction really shines, and it’s not like he was doing a sh-t job before. It’s just that in its third season, everything about Barry feels at its most confident, from the styling to the writing to the directing to individual performances. Barry is stretching its own outer limits as everything spirals out of control to an absurd degree as the consequences for all this chaos finally start adding up.
Consequences are a major theme in season three, though not so much of the legal variety. Cops are as hapless as criminals in the world of Barry, with the LAPD spending more time imagining their would-be cool task force’s logo than they do on any real investigating (they’re as bad as Noho Hank trying to find just the right bullet to mail to someone for intimidation). But everyone has been making decisions for better or worse—mostly worse—and in season three, the consequences of some of those decisions come home to roost. Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan, still an UTTER DELIGHT) is trying to have it all after the monastery shooting in season two, running his new heroin business out of a parking lot nursery. He’s on the outs with Barry, though, because Barry killed “most of [his] buddies” and landed him in hot water with the LAPD. Noho Hank’s American dream of being a cool gang leader with a stable home life and active social circle, though, is jeopardized by continued threats from Bolivia and the oversight of his bosses back in Chechnya.
Similarly, consequences for Barry and Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) persist after the death of Detective Janice Moss, though they’re not all bad. The second major theme of the season is breaking cycles, and the way Barry interweaves the ideas of facing consequences, earning forgiveness, and breaking cycles is legitimately magnificent. Plot and story are very nearly one and the same as the season’s storylines weave in and out, coming together and branching apart in surprising, sometimes hilarious and other times tragic ways. For instance, Sally’s storyline of her new show debuting on a streaming service seems far removed from Barry’s central story with Cousineau this season, but it is one of the sharpest illustrations of a character breaking a cycle in the show. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is on the cusp of realizing her dreams, but first she’s going to have to face some hard truths. Elsie Fisher pops up to play her young in-show co-star, made to doubt what she sees by all the adults around her, one of the darker aspects of the show but also an effective demonstration of how toxic systems will make good people into unwilling patsies to prop up bad people.
And Barry’s past is coming back to haunt him in an unexpected way, as he and Fuches (Stephen Root) struggle to break their toxic orbit. Some of it leads to great humor, but a lot of it leads to abject misery and tragedy—there is a LOT of collateral damage in this season, and it’s not all nameless drug dealers caught in various stings and raids. It seems that the more Barry tries to leave his past behind, the more that past doubles back on him, and the more innocent people are caught in the crossfire. A few characters seem like they might escape Barry’s wake no worse for the wear, but given the overall trajectory of Barry so far, and a fourth season already scripted, it’s hard to imagine any positive gains are permanent. Barry’s emotional and storytelling scope is becoming positively Shakespearean, as it feels like every single character, even the ones who have done nothing objectionable, are going to suffer, eventually, for even briefly brushing up against Barry Berkman.
There are some very funny moments in season three, including a scene in the sixth episode that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe, but to call Barry a comedy is to sell short its dramatics. Barry is operating on a level few shows reach, there’s no way all the moving parts would come together as they do unless every step was carefully planned, yet it constantly feels fresh and surprising, never taking the expected angle into any storyline. It has always been a good show, but in its third season, Barry is beyond good. It’s exceptional, near perfect television, jaw-droppingly good in every aspect, in turns hilarious and tragic. In an era where there is so much good television, there isn’t anything else quite like Barry.
Barry season three premieres new episodes every Sunday on HBO now through June 12, 2022.